Quick Summary: This episode is about This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. Parents Rosie and Penn struggle with balancing the needs of their five children, navigating their inclination both to support and to protect their youngest child who is exploring gender identity. This is the story of a family who is doing their best, despite all of the uncertainty, to help themselves navigate their way in the world.
My Take: I absolutely loved this tender depiction of a family of seven as they worked to navigate their way through the world together. Frankel's depiction of Claude's journey as he transitioned into Poppy was powerful and compassionate, and Frankel never suggested that Rosie and Penn knew the way forward or had all the answers, but she instead revealed the daily pathway they all took toward a better, truer life for themselves and all of their children.
My conclusion: This book was a clear winner for me. While I did not fly through it, the prose was elegant and whimsical, and I was swept away by the characters and their journey. I so appreciated Frankel's portrayal of parenting and how hard it is to know the right thing to do, and I loved her honest, raw depiction of what transitioning can be like for a transgender child who is aware from early childhood that she is a girl. 5/5 stars.
The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan, chronicles the journey of Leigh Chen Sanders as she goes to her mother’s homeland, Taiwan, in order to bring about some resolution for her mother (and herself) after her mother’s suicide. Shortly after her mother’s death, Leigh discovers that her mother has become a beautiful red bird, and she pursues the bird, which takes Leigh on a journey into the collective past of her family.
My Take: This book was stunningly beautiful. I also found it deeply painful to read. For a large portion of the book, I was worried that there was no hope for redemption or peace. The premise makes it clear that there is no hope for Leigh's mom (at least in her bodily form on this earth) as she has already succumbed to suicide as the book opens. However, I was completely captivated, and I found the twists and turns and magical realism that Pan weaves so smoothly into the text to be both compelling and comforting.
My conclusion: This was a stunning novel. Throughout much of the novel, I felt like I couldn't imagine feeling hopeful by the end, but it is remarkably uplifting considering the heavy content and premise. It was captivating, eloquent, and artistic. In short, I loved it. I was teary throughout much of it, but I found it cathartic and hopeful. Well done, Ms. Pan. I look forward to more works by this talented author. 5/5 stars.
Favorite Quotes: The memorable, gorgeous quotes are endless. I was taking photos of pages to capture the passages, and I truly felt that I could have photographed every page. I cannot believe this is Pan's first novel! Here are a few of the ones I loved.
Teaching Tips: This novel would be a great choice for lit circles, and it would work well with other works about grief, coping with loss, family dynamics, cross-cultural families, and second generation Americans.
My Take: Phew, this one was not what I had anticipated. In a lot of ways I wound up feeling disappointed and frustrated, but there were some things I enjoyed -- the language was lovely in places, and the characters' strong personalities really resonated.
My conclusion: While I appreciated some aspects of the novel, and I definitely found myself wanting to find out what was going to happen, I found myself disappointed by the end. I wanted to like both of the main characters a bit more (though I so appreciated something Roxanne Gay says in Bad Feminist -- we shouldn't (I'm paraphrasing here) be reading books to find characters that are likeable! I this that is an excellent point, but I couldn't relate to either of the women in this story enough.) 3/5 stars.
Quick Summary: Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone is a YA fantasy novel the centers on three characters who live in Orisha, a fantasy world loosely based on the author’s Nigerian heritage. This world that has lost its connection to magic. Zélie is one of the maji, individuals blessed with a connection to the gods who could do magic. The other two narrators are siblings, the children of the king who killed an entire generation of maji and who banished magic from the kingdom. Amari, the princess, has quietly struggled to meet her parents’ expectations through a lifetime of trying to fit in and to resist her desire to leave the castle. Inan, the prince, has done everything his father wanted, becoming a captain in the military who will enforce magic’s banishment. All three characters struggle with conflicts that have no easy answers, particularly as they come to know each other and their unique, hidden challenges.
My Take: Man, I loved this book so very much, and it was really tough to realize that I'll have to wait a long time for the next book to be released. I was enthralled by Zélie from the start--I loved her stubbornness and her loyalty to Tzain and her father. Her dedication to her mother's memory was powerful, and I appreciated the struggle she had throughout the novel to reconcile the damage magic could do with the way that it could give power to the powerless. I found Amari's and Inan's perspectives intriguing as well, and I appreciated the way that all of their lives wound together as the novel progressed.
My conclusion: I'm a fantasy lover in general, and I've been long overdue for a great fantasy read. I had extremely high expectations for this novel and could not wait for it to be released. Often, it's tough for a novel to live up to those expectations, but in so many ways, I thought that Adeyemi delivers. Adeyemi manages to tell a phenomenal story that is compelling and gripping while also making it a socially conscious commentary on the struggles within our contemporary society. That is hard work, but she pulls it off with finesse and seeming ease. 5/5 stars.
What I added to my TBR list: I was so interested in the text that Sara shared, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba. With that kind of recommendation, I want to make sure that I read it soon! I also love Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison so very much. Jen sharing that one made me want to read it again.
Teaching Tips: This novel would be a great option for lit circles. As we discuss in the podcast, it would work well as an option along side of other socially conscious books that are taking on issues such as racism and police brutality more directly with realistic fiction. I love how this book takes a different angle on these complex issues our society is facing.
Podcast Highlights: I so appreciated what Jen said about Amari's quiet strength, and I thought Sara's commentary about the backstory she created for Saran was fascinating. I most especially appreciated how we all found different things about the book interesting, but despite those various perspectives, we each loved it. That speaks to the strengths of the novel. I can't believe it's Adeyemi's first novel! I'm so looking forward to the rest of the series.
Dane Huckelbridge’s Castle of Water is a story about two strangers, Barry and Sophie, who are on a small plane that crashes into the ocean. They end up on a small, deserted island where they have to learn to survive . . . and to live together.
Phew... We had so much to say about this book! It was so fun to discuss, and we could've dug into it for much longer.
My Take: I enjoyed this story very much. The language is breathtakingly beautiful, and the perspective (that includes some rather cosmic examinations of the two main characters and their predicament) is quite interesting. The role of art in the novel is also powerful and gripping. The best part of the book? I appreciate it more each time I think about it, which is a great complement to a book!
My conclusion: Upon my first reading, there were a few facets of the plot line about which I felt a little critical. (To avoid spoilers, I will not specify what those were, but I will say they mostly occurred toward the end of the book.) However, the more we discussed the book (both at book club and then with the podcast crew), the more those tiny details fell away and the stark beauty of the story--one of survival, love, and hope--remained. 5/5 stars.
Favorite Quotes: How can I choose? The quotable passages are endless. Here's just a small sampling.
Teaching Tips: This book would be an amazing one for lit circles and could stand up to a whole class reading with advanced/ AP students.
Podcast Highlights: I so LOVED listening to Jen read the passage about rowing from the novel (which was undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of the work as a whole), and I thought after our discussion that I could enjoy this book all over again by listening to it as an audio book.
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.